A Brief History of Los Angeles’ Most Iconic Buildings

Cultura Exclusive/Tim E White/Getty Images

Some of the most fascinating history of L.A. lives within the hallowed walls of the city's most iconic buildings.

It comes as no surprise that Los Angeles is brimming with all kinds of captivating history—from the glory days of Golden Age Hollywood to the Spanish Missions of Southern California to the birth of surf culture in Venice and Santa Monica. But perhaps some of the most fascinating history lives within the hallowed walls of L.A.’s most iconic buildings.

Below, we’ve rounded up a few stories that have defined Los Angeles as a buzzing metropolis and a revolutionary architectural hub. Have a scroll, and learn about the stories behind those fabled walls of theaters, buildings, and some of your favorite shops and restaurants.


AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Chateau Marmont

If you’re in the Hollywood area, promise us you’ll stop by Chateau Marmont. While the food, drinks, and accommodations are top-tier, the history also makes the legendary hotel especially well worth a visit. Built in the 1920s by Arnold A. Weitzman as the city’s first earthquake-proof apartment building, and established as a hotel in the 1930s, the Chateau has a long history of hosting some of Hollywood’s brightest stars. And a reputation for being home to some of their really bad behavior (think alleged celebrity elevator hook-ups, actors jumping through windows, other actors racking up a hotel bill of over $46,000 *ahem, Lindsay Lohan*). You get the idea.  


SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

The 1927 opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was historically known as one of the most “spectacular theatre openings in motion picture history.” Designed by showman Sid Grauman, the theatre was meant to be one of his dreams, even more opulent than the already-existent Million Dollar Theatre or the Egyptian Theatre, both also in Los Angeles. After $2 million dollars of construction and 18 months of building, it’s no surprise that the theatre’s opening was widely anticipated across the city. Artifacts like temple bells and stone Heaven Dogs were imported directly from China, and the theatre is consequently known for its palatial architecture, like red columns, wrought-iron masks, a bronze roof, and a 30-foot-high carved stone dragon. As of 2013, the theatre has partnered with Chinese electronics manufacturer TCL, and continues to push the boundaries of exhibition and creative performance.  


Kathryn Donohew Photography/Getty Images

The Eastern Columbia Building

Designed by Claud Beelman, this stunning Art Deco landmark structure stands out among others in the historic Broadway Theatre district of Downtown L.A. You probably know it from the teal terracotta that covers the entire exterior, the clock tower, and the fluorescent “Eastern” sign at the top of the 13-floor building. Built for a whopping $1.25 million in 1930, it originally housed the then-new headquarters for Eastern Outfitting Company and Columbia Outfitting Company, but now houses luxury lofts and high-end retail.


AlizadaStudios/Getty Images

The Getty Center

Designed by renowned architect Richard Meier, The Getty Center was created in honor of art collector and businessman J. Paul Getty. Purchased by The Getty Trust in 1983, after the death of J. Paul Getty, the 110-acre stretch of land in Brentwood, a neighborhood in the Santa Monica Mountains, is valued higher than any other property in all of L.A. County (it clocks in around at over $3 billion). In addition to being an architectural marvel, the Center houses expansive gardens and a massive collection of European and American art. Guests can also visit the original Getty Villa in the Pacific Palisades, where guests can learn about art and architecture from ancient Greece and Rome.


Asim Bharwani/Getty Images

Griffith Observatory

Just around 80 years old, this iconic attraction sits up on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood, not far from the Hollywood sign. Named after Griffith J. Griffith, a visionary who gifted the land for the park on which the building sits in the late 19th century, the Griffith Observatory offers free admissions to anyone who’d like to explore the fascinating exhibits, check out the world-famous planetarium, and look through the massive Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope.


Getty Images

The Hollywood Sign

Okay—so we realize it’s not technically a building, but it is one of L.A.’s most famed structures, emblematic of the entire entertainment industry, and perhaps one of the most photographed signs in the world. Believe it or not, the Hollywood Sign was originally constructed by the Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler in 1923 to serve as a campaign advertisement for his real estate development called Hollywoodland. There were originally 13 30-foot-wide by 50-foot-high metal letters, but the “land” was removed upon renovation in the 1940s, in order to more accurately reflect Hollywood as a district. The sign saw further renovations in the ‘70s, thanks to funding from nine donors, and now the nine letters are 45 by 31 to 39 feet.


Glenn Nagel/Getty Images

Los Angeles Public Library

Considered a treasure and a landmark of Downtown Los Angeles, the Public Library was originally built in 1926, then expanded in 1993. The original building (now called the Goodhue Building) was designed by an architect from New York named Bertram Goodhue. The building is exemplary of early Art Deco days, and Goodhue’s hope was that the exterior he created would provide a natural background to high and low relief sculptures around the building’s facade—and it did. The sculptures were crafted by Lee Lawrie, who worked closely with Goodhue to bring the theme Light of Learning to life. Due to overcrowding beginning in the 1960s, a new plan was born (after several decades of debate) in 1983 for an additional 33,000 square foot wing, which became the Tom Bradley wing, named after Los Angeles Mayor Bradley.


David Peevers/Getty Images

The Bradbury Building

Opened in 1893, standing now as central L.A.’s oldest commercial building, and known for its stunning skylit atrium interior with polished oak, geometric staircases, and breathtaking wrought-iron artistry, the Bradbury Building is an iconic Los Angeles landmark located on Broadway. The architecture is a fine example of the Chicago School Style, as well as both Renaissance and Romanesque Revival styles. It’s been used as many a film set—you can see it in movies like Blade Runner and 500 Days of Summer.